Posted by: Josh Lehner | August 17, 2017

Oregon Government Size, An Update

Yes, the public sector here in Oregon continues to grow. We have never had more public employees or more tax revenue than we do today. However the regional economy and the number of total Oregonians has never been larger either. Once you make the adjustment of comparing the public sector to the size of the population, or tax revenues as a share of personal income, Oregon’s public sector hasn’t increased in size for decades. And make no mistake, adjustments like these are the correct way to examine the size of government over time. Reasonable people, and unreasonable ones too I suppose, can debate the proper role and scope of the public sector. However a larger population means there are more residents in need of services, from schools to roads to law enforcement and so forth. And a stronger economy generating jobs and income does translate into more tax dollars for the public sector.

The first chart shows public employment relative to the state’s population over time. There was a sizable increase in the 1960s and 1970s as safety net programs were expanded and the Baby Boomers aged through the education system. However since 1980 or so, public employment has been growing in-line with the overall Oregon population. And if we’re really trying to keep score, the relative size of the public workforce today is the smallest it has been since the early 1980s. Public education employment hasn’t been this low, relative to the population, since the 1960s, at least in part because the school-age population is a shrinking share of the state population.

Tax revenues are no different. They grow and decline along with the business cycle, but have remained a steady share of personal income for decades.

Such findings are seen in many other research reports as well. For example, here is what ECONorthwest President John Tapogna showed as part of the Oregon Business Plan [pg 31] at their early 2017 annual meeting. These figures include a broader set of public revenues than what is included above, but the big picture takeaway is the same.

Now, some of you may be asking why we have budget issues when public employment and revenues have been a stable share of the economy. There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is costs are increasing faster than revenues, and forecasted to continue to do so. The long answer is more complicated and the spending, or expenditure, side of the discussion is outside our office’s duties and expertise. That said there are numerous complicating economic and demographic factors influencing these budget issues as well. I gave a presentation on some of these issues earlier this year and will write a summary in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Finally, for those interested in more, during the legislative session our office gave a brief presentation to the House Committee on Economic Development and Trade on the impact of public employment in rural Oregon. Those slides are below:

Posted by: Josh Lehner | August 9, 2017

Labor Supply, How Much More?

Right now we know the labor market is tight. Help Wanted signs and media reports of businesses saying they can’t find enough workers are a daily occurrence. Standard economic measures like the unemployment rate agree. If Oregon is to see stronger labor force growth, or labor supply, it will have to come from some combination of faster population growth and/or higher labor force participation rates among Oregonians. The question is: will we get it?

Our office recently asked our advisors about this. Our baseline outlook says the slower job growth we’ve seen in the past year is here to stay and much of the participation gains have played out. We feel strongly that this is the most likely outcome, however there is upside risk here too. Job growth, labor force participation, and population growth can all come in better than we expect. Even in a world with a kicker law, better economic growth is a good thing.

First, however, it must be highlighted that Oregon already has a good labor force response. A lot of Oregonians are back in the workforce in search of the more-plentiful and better-paying jobs in recent years. While it is true the labor force participation rate remains lower today than a decade or two ago, much of the decline is due to the aging population. The participation gap — the difference between the actual LFPR and an estimate of what it s/would be at full employment — is essentially as small today as at any point since the dotcom bust. Can we do better?

Changes over the past 20 years vary considerably by age group. However economists tend to focus on the so-called prime working-age population, 25 to 54 years old. This group is less prone to changes in higher education enrollments (unlike 18-24 year olds), or retirement decisions (unlike 55+ year olds). However, participation rates even among these prime-age Oregonians have fallen. See our previous reports on prime-age men and prime-age women for more on educational attainment and middle-wage jobs.

Everything else equal, fewer available workers does represent lower potential economic growth moving forward. So a key question is why are participation rates down? What are these prime-age Oregonians doing instead of looking for work? The chart below shows the relative shift (increase) for each reason folks are not in the labor force since 2000, the last time the economy as at, or beyond, full employment.

Keep in mind that while labor force participation is a yes or no question on paper and in the data, it really operates on a continuum. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision. It is not truly black and white. What if a job offer came it at $2/hr more? $5/hr more? What if a slot opened up at the neighborhood childcare center making it easier to drop off and pick up your kid(s)? What if the company on the bus line had an opening? And so forth.

Similarly, the reasons why people say they are not looking for work imply different outlooks for future growth too. More-plentiful job opportunities are likely to pull discouraged workers back in who previously gave up looking. Those enrolled in school will return when they graduate. However those in bad health may be unable to return to the workforce even if they want to. Those saying they are retired may be less likely to rejoin as well.

Nonparticipation rates are up across the board, in all age groups (except 65+), for both sexes, and for all types of reasons. That said there is important variation. Higher ed enrollment is more pronounced among the 25-34 year olds (and 18-24). The increase in stay-at-home moms is also among the younger group. While the increase in the ill or disabled are most pronounced among the older prime-age group (45-54).

In looking at the chart, going from more likely to return to the labor force to less likely, it’s easy to see another percentage point or two increase as reasonable. More is possible, but then you get further into the gray areas. Now, the data above is lagged and uses a multi-year average to help with sample size concerns. Real time participation data indicates Oregon has already seen some additional gains. Employment and participation is now close to where it was a decade ago, however further gains are needed to return to late 1990s rates.

Finally, the big increase in those saying they are too ill or disabled to work is a big concern. Does it represent a major public health issue, possibly even linked to the opioid crisis? Does it simply reflect larger societal acceptance/acknowledgement of chronic pain? Does it represent individuals trying to save face when asked why they aren’t working? Or does it represent an increase in those claiming disability for financial reasons and benefits?

It is hard to pin down the exact reasons. However we can largely rule out disability benefits as the driver. As an economist, it’s clear that incentives matter. By paying some people to not work (because they are unable to do so), there is an incentive to apply for and receive disability benefits. However, when digging into the data, it is clear that the increase in those actually receiving disability income and those actually part of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program is considerably smaller than the overall increase in people citing ill health or disability as the reason they are unable to work. Now, it is one factor, one component of these trends, however it is clearly not the major driver.

Note: Our office is working on some opioid-related work. Hopefully it will be ready in the not-too-distant future to discuss.

Summary: While our office expects the slower job growth to continue, it does not mean the numbers cannot come in better than we expect. Some slack remains. Should a stronger economy pull more workers back into the labor force it would be great news.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | August 3, 2017

Poverty and Progress, SNAP Edition (Graph of the Week)

As our office has been highlighting in recent years, Oregon’s economy is now at the point where we are seeing progress made in some of our deeper measures of economic well-being. Nearly all of Oregon’s economic metrics are back, or nearly back to pre-Great Recession readings. However, stickier measures like median household income, the poverty rate, and caseloads for needs-based programs are among the last things to turn around. Regarding the last one, some of the increases in caseloads are for structural reasons like demographics or even expanded eligibility, however there is usually some element of the business cycle involved, at least in terms of the larger, or better known programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps). Previously in the Poverty and Progress series our office looked at SNAP usage vs poverty rates, the Portland Metro area, Oregon overall, and Josephine County.

This edition of the Graph of the Week highlights changes in the SNAP caseloads in Oregon and the relative timing of these changes with the unemployment rate, one measure of the economy. What really jumps out is how quickly the job market can change, while needs-based caseloads are usually slower to adjust. While most unemployed workers apply for unemployment insurance benefits, the timing of other programs suggest they may not apply for these other programs immediately. Applying for, and receiving benefits like SNAP may occur after a spell of unemployment and as household savings are spent. At least that is one interpretation of the data.

Today, even as the number of jobs has been at an all-time high for a couple of years now and the unemployment rate is lower than a decade ago, SNAP usage is about halfway back to pre-Great Recession rates. About 23% of Oregon households, or 16% of all Oregonians receive SNAP benefits so far in 2017, compared with about 15% and 12% back in 2007. The turning point in terms of these caseloads looks to be 2013 or so. While Oregon began adding jobs in early 2010, it wasn’t until 2013 that job growth really started to pick up some. At that time the Portland region’s growth accelerated from around 2% to 3% at an annual pace. More importantly the state’s secondary metros began adding jobs again, after a few years of no growth following the technical end of the recession. As these secondary metros started to surge in 2014 and 2015, plus rural Oregon adding jobs in greater numbers in 2015, SNAP usage began its downward trajectory.

Between now and the next recession our office expects to continue to see progress made on these stickier measures of economic well-being. We are fully in the feel-good part of the business cycle where household incomes are rising and poverty is falling. Oregon is not back to mid-2000s rates yet, but the trajectory and trends have improved considerably. However, mid-2000s should not be the goal, given economic conditions were better still in 1999/2000, the last time the economy truly was at full employment.

In terms of the outlook for SNAP itself, please see our friends over in the Department of Human Services, Office of Forecasting, Research and Analysis. As they report, there is a clear distinction between trends in SNAP – Self Sufficiency and SNAP – Aging and People with Disabilities. The former is expected to return to caseloads lower than before the Great Recession while the latter is expected to continue to increase in the coming years. These types of distinctions have a huge impact on the outlook, as our friends over in DHS like to remind us. It’s clearly not all about the business cycle, and in some programs it’s not influenced by the business cycle at all. You can find their latest statewide forecast document here, and the latest regional/district forecast here.

Note: I am using what I call the SNAP usage rate which is simply the share of all Oregon households or the share of Oregonians receiving SNAP benefits. The chart shows the percent change relative to pre-Great Recession lows. The unemployment rate itself went from 5% in the summer of 2007 to 11.9% in May 2009 (an increase of 138%). SNAP usage for households nearly doubled going from 15% to 29%, while SNAP usage for individuals went from 12% to 21%.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | August 1, 2017

Oregon Economic Recovery Scorecard: Summer 2017

Top level economic measures never tell the whole story. Knowing how many jobs have been added is important but it alone cannot tell you if job growth is enough to keep pace with population growth, or about the types of jobs being added and so forth. That is why a few years ago we introduced the Economic Recovery Scorecard which showed the progress made across nearly 40 different measures. At the time a handful of the topline indicators like employment, state GDP and the like had returned to pre-Great Recession readings, however the vast majority of measures had not. In particular we knew that deeper measures of economic well-being had shown some, but not much progress.

Today it is clear very few measures haven’t shown considerable improvement in recent years. Nearly half of all of the included economic measures are back to their pre-Great Recession readings. Nearly two-thirds are 90% of the way back or better. And 4 out of 5 indicators are at least three-fourths of the way back. Again, clear progress has and is being made across the whole spectrum of economic measures.

Things I’m watching closely to mark further economic progress include prime-age EPOP and the stickier metrics like the poverty rate and caseloads for needs-based programs. As our office has discussed quite a bit in recent years, these are the last things to turn around. How much further progress we make at this point really depends upon how much longer the expansion lasts. To date the poverty rate and SNAP usage rate (share of Oregonians receiving SNAP) are essentially halfway back to where they were in 2007. And 2007 rates never got back down to the late 1990s rates either. There remains considerable room for further improvement in these types of economic indicators and our office thinks we will see some as the expansion continues.

In summary the Oregon economy really is doing considerably better than a couple years ago, let alone relative to the depths of the financial crisis. It is important to keep in mind that there are always problems and issues in the economy. This is true today and it was also true, say, back in the 1990s as well. For example, poverty rates were rising in the Timber Belt back then, even as the rest of the region and much of the nation were experiencing an economic boom. During expansions it is usually that the good news outweighs the bad and vice versus during recessions. Today the good news continues to outweigh the bad news, which is, well, good news.

Note 1: Stay tuned, I will have a bit more on SNAP usage and the business cycle later this week.

Note 2: The one measure shown previously but omitted from this version is median household net worth. The reason is that data, from the Federal Reserve, is only published once every 3 years. The most recent data is from 2013, which is really out of date today. 2016 data will likely be released in the next couple of months, but is not currently available. Once it is released, we will have a summary of the findings.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | July 26, 2017

Tech Hubs and Venture Capital, Oregon Edition

Over at Indeed, Jed Kolko has a new piece looking at high-tech job postings across the nation. Among the trends he highlights, Jed notes that the eight biggest tech hubs — Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Raleigh, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington D.C. — have tightened their grip on the industry. He writes:

Therein lies a key point about the dynamics of tech hubs: Although the overall share of tech jobs in hub metros has been essentially flat from 2013 to 2017, higher-salary tech jobs have become more concentrated in top-tier tech centers over the past year, while lower-salary tech jobs have dispersed a bit. In other words, tech hubs are keeping their grip where it really counts.

Now, keep in mind these are job postings and not actual employment counts, but this new research fits in with the overall pattern of the high-tech sector we’ve seen in recent years. Jobs, wages, venture capital and the like continue to be heavily concentrated in the existing tech hubs. Among other metros across the country, Jed does find that the Portland region’s mix of tech jobs is similar to Silicon Valley. Portland (and Boulder) “should be considered cousins of Silicon Valley, not because of the amount of tech-job postings they have, but rather because of the kind.”

All of this is new and interesting work and does fit into previous efforts our office has worked on as well. I think one key point is the importance of agglomeration, particularly when it comes to these tech hubs. It is hugely beneficial for these companies to locate near one another, develop a strong labor market full of people with these particular skills, enjoy the fruits of knowledge spillovers and so forth. And while tech jobs are being added all over the country, they are not increasingly moving outside of the existing hubs, or at least not yet.

Let’s take Oregon as an example. While we have seen good growth locally, and a big transition from hardware into software, the share of all Oregon jobs in tech-related industries has remained pretty steady over the past 15 years. And Oregon’s share of all U.S. high-tech jobs has remained steady over the past 15 years as well. Again, it’s not that we haven’t seen good growth, we have. It’s that so too have other regions.

In terms of the regional outlook, I remain optimistic. The transition that Oregon tech is making in terms of moving from hardware into software is encouraging. Historically Oregon has not had much of a software sector, but it is growing in recent years. These jobs are diversifying our economy and are needed and welcomed. Plus our region’s ability to attract and retain young, skilled workers is a huge advantage. We have even seen a shift toward more young migrants to Oregon with scientific, technical and medical degrees than has traditionally been the case.

However, even with all this good news, our tech jobs are not growing significantly faster than in the rest of the nation. Furthermore, a good portion of the software growth represents outposts or satellite offices rather than homegrown headquarters. The hope is that our regional economy develops enough of a critical mass that it can withstand the business cycle and achieve even better growth moving forward. It should be pointed out that our advisors do think we have reached critical mass in this regard, which is great news for the Oregon economy.

Along these lines something that has struck me recently is a small shift in the type of venture capital funding Oregon firms are now getting. In recent years Oregon companies have started getting seed stage VC funding (or early stage more broadly) which didn’t really happen a decade ago. Keep in mind these figures are still really small (a little less than 1% of nationwide totals), and statewide we add around 4-5,000 new companies every year across all industries. However getting seed or early stage investments in one indication that local start-ups are doing better. Or at least finding a VC audience. Note: this data is for all industries, not just high-tech.

The hope would be that one or three of these new companies will be very successful and help propel our regional economy forward. And with agglomeration and clusters, success tends to feed on itself and a positive, self-reinforcing cycle ensues. Now, it can be hard to know if Firm A, Firm B, or Firm C will do the best, however the probability that one will be successful increases if you have more start-ups overall. The probability of success for each firm may not change, however the probability of a single success does increase. An added bonus in this scenario is that homegrown firms do generally provide broader support for the regional economy.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | July 21, 2017

Eugene in Perspective (Graph of the Week)

We’re down in Eugene for some meetings with local businesses as part of our annual get-out-of-Salem trip with the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors. Once per year our group visits a city around the state to learn more about the local economy and enjoy different parts of our beautiful state. I will follow up soon with some of the information we learn but for now wanted to post a few quick thoughts.

Let’s take a quick look at the Eugene MSA (Lane County) and its economic growth over the past 35 years. The region has been through a lot and yet has proved resilient to massive shifts. The Changing of the Guard has had a huge impact here locally. And yet, Eugene overall has kept pace not only with other metros that have a similarly built economy but also with all metros around the country.

What I did earlier this year for a few Eugene-specific outlook talks was look at the detailed industrial structure of all US metro areas from the 1980 Census, using the current MSA definitions as best I could. Then I found those that had the greatest similarity to Eugene’s industrial structure back then. You can see the list on the left below. I then tracked employment across all the metros in the past 35 years. Turns out Eugene is pretty typical or essentially the median metro among this group. I don’t show the actual median among the group because the chart gets messy with overlapping lines and the US total metro makes more intuitive sense to me at least. And the simple fact the group median and US total metro are nearly identical.

Here you can see the massive impact of the early 1980s recession on Eugene — and the rest of Oregon too of course. However, following the timber industry restructuring of the 80s, strong growth returned and Eugene caught back up by the late 1990s and was above the majority of other metros by the mid-2000s.

In recent years Eugene has once again undergone a massive restructuring, not totally unlike the early 1980s. The region lost 40% or so of its manufacturing jobs and those are mostly permanent losses (RV industry and the tech chip plant chief among them). However all other sectors have regained their employment peak and the region is growing. 2016 was another good year of growth, closing the gap relative to the typical metro. And more importantly household income are rising again. Eugene is proving resilient once again.

Finally, among the peer metros, it is true that both Boise and Houston have pulled away from the pack. This means they skew the blue portion of the chart upward. However Eugene outperforms most of the rest. 

Posted by: Josh Lehner | July 12, 2017

Oregon Household Debt: Mostly Tame

In early 2017, total household debt in the U.S. reached an all-time high according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Household Debt and Credit Report. There has been some handwringing over this given huge debt loads last decade were one reason for the financial crisis and its severity. However one cannot just look at the total debt number without context. One must look at both debt and income, or liabilities and assets to make sense of the situation. What follows is an update on household debt here in Oregon.

First, while total outstanding debt in Oregon is also at historic highs in dollar terms, as a share of personal income it remains relatively tame. In fact, Oregon households are now leveraged the least they have been since the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, it can be hard to say what the proper, or right amount of debt is. The key is using it property when needed and ensuring the ability to pay it off eventually. The good news is that national data continues to show servicing these debts takes a historically small share of our personal income. In other words, overall debt loads are in-line with incomes and we can make the payments.

Now, keep in mind that these are aggregate statistics. They add up all the debt or all the income in the Oregon economy. Individual households can obviously vary considerably and there are no doubt numerous households with too much debt and/or not enough income to pay for it.

Even as Oregon’s relative patterns mirror the nation, our levels of household debt are larger than those seen in the typical state. This is true for our western neighbors as well. Specifically, California ranks 6th highest in terms of household debt to income, Oregon ranks 7th, Washington ranks 9th, and Idaho ranks 13th.

The primary reason for these patterns are housing costs as mortgage debt is the largest component of total household debt. With higher home prices along the Left Coast, it takes larger mortgages to buy a home. However, even here we are seeing relatively tame levels of mortgage debt, at least when compared with income. Yes, home prices continue to go up, up, up but we are now seeing corresponding increases in household incomes. Furthermore there has been strong growth in the number of higher-income households as the economy continues to improve, although such gains are not due to rich migrants.

It must be noted that some of the mortgage deleveraging following the crash was for a bad reason: foreclosures. When one loses her home, she also loses the debt. That said, even in recent years Oregonians haven’t been leveraging back up on mortgage debt. Thankfully, that (likely) means any potential housing issues in the future won’t have the same economy-wide fallout as last time.

The next chart looks at other types of households debts beyond mortgages. Local trends, again, follow the same patterns seen across the country. That said, Oregon’s auto loan and credit card debts are lower than the national average or those seen in the typical state. Combined, Oregon ranks 31st highest among all states for auto and credit card debts.

There has been some discussion about subprime auto loans and potential issues there. The NY Fed had an article on that late last year. The bottom line, as Deutsche Bank economist Torsten Slok said, these loans may be a worry for those holding the debt, but it is not a problem for the macro economy. One reason is outstanding subprime auto loans are considerably smaller than the subprime mortgage market last decade, and the financial system has less leverage today as well.

Finally, student loans are one type of household debt that continues to grow. Oregon has a larger share of student loans than the typical state, however this is likely due to our migration trends. Oregon is a top destination for young college graduates.

As our office detailed a few years ago, the biggest issue with student loans is not the college graduates with six figure debts. Now, those are problems, don’t get me wrong. However such individuals do tend to get good-paying jobs and are able to service the debt. Default rates are actually lower for those with large loans.

No, the biggest student loan issues are those who do not graduate or who graduate from a program that does not actually provide skills valued by employers. Such individuals generally have relatively low levels of debt, ranging from a couple thousand dollars up to maybe $10,000 or $20,000. The issue is such individuals are not able to land a job that can allow them to pay off these loans.

To help drive home this point, I think a visual can help. Taking student loan data from 2015, the folks at did just that: they mapped student loan debts. Below you can see the inverse relationship between average student loan balances and delinquency rates across the Willamette Valley. Zip codes with high loan balances have low delinquency rates and zip codes with low loan balances have high delinquency rates.

For more great research on student loans, please see this recent slide deck from the NY Fed. The student loan work starts on slide 16 and runs through the end. Lots of really good information included there, I highly recommend it.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | June 30, 2017

More on Migration and Household Incomes (Graphs of the Week)

The impact, or at least perceived impact, of migration on the local economy, household incomes and the housing market generates a lot of interest and conversation. Quite a few of you reached out yesterday to share your thoughts and I appreciate it! Given the feedback and questions, which are similar to the discussion our office has when we give presentations around the state, I wanted to dig into the data and post a quick graphical update to yesterday’s post for this edition of the Graph(s) of the Week.

What I did was look at the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) data for young households in the Portland metro area. I focus on those not currently enrolled in school and living on their own. These are household income figures, not per person, so any differences in the composition of households can influence the data. Also, household characteristics like age and educational attainment are based on the characteristics of the householder (formerly head of household). While imperfect, this is the best I can do in short order. Given the findings yesterday and below, I am hard-pressed to believe a more granular analysis would yield wildly different results.

Among both college graduates (first chart below) and non-college graduates (second chart), there are minimal differences in household income levels for current residents, current Oregon-born residents, and out-of-state migrants. This holds true when focusing just on homeowners, or just on renters. Within each segment shown below, the median household income figures are very similar, with only a few thousand dollars in differences at most. Given the sample sizes, some of which are very very small, such differences are unlikely to be statistically significant. Furthermore, in results not shown here due to sample size concerns, income levels from [insert state here] are also not considerably different than the results shown below.

Yesterday’s post, today’s update, and additional work our office has done all point towards migration not being a major factor when it comes to the shifting household incomes in Oregon. Again, not that it’s not one factor. It’s just not the major one. The overall economy is the biggest driver of these trends. Now, as mentioned yesterday, migration is for the young, and young college graduates in particular. Such individuals and households tend to have higher income/career trajectories given job opportunities and associated wages. As such, even as migration itself does not impact the household income distribution in the short-term, it may, and likely does, have a longer-run positive impact. Furthermore, these results are for the metro area as a whole. It is likely that different neighborhoods are experiencing considerably different trends and outcomes. While that is undoubtedly true, it does not mean such neighborhoods are representative of overall trends.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | June 29, 2017

Incomes, Migration and Housing Affordability

When it comes to the Oregon economy and rising housing costs, one key dynamic seen in the data is the fact that the number of higher-income households are showing the strongest growth. Last year we dove deeper into these changes and we regularly use a chart like the one below in our presentations.

While it may look like a fairly simple chart, and it is, there’s really a lot going on here below the surface. One of the major misconceptions regarding the chart is that these changes are due to migration. Well, migration is one part of it, but not the major driver. Other factors like demographics, headship rates, household formation patterns more broadly, and the like all matter. However, the economy appears to be the biggest factor. The number of people with a job, the type of job, and wage growth all matter quite a bit. So it’s really a complex set of circumstances driving this very clear pattern at the topline.

In presentations I tell the story of how I have been in 4 of these different bars over this time period. First I had an entry level research job, then I went back to graduate school and earned even less. Then I got a junior position here at the state, and earned a promotion. Furthermore I got married in there too, so while I have jumped around across the different bars, I actually represent a net decrease of one household due to marriage. You know, the whole two (households) become one (household) situation, if you will.

OK, back to the migration misconception issue. There is a very simple reason why the overall household trends aren’t due to rich migrants moving to Oregon and plundering our quality of life. Or something like that. The reason is that the majority of newly arrived households actually have lower incomes than the households already living in Oregon. As such, it can’t mathematically work out that migration trends are driving the growth in high-income households.

Now, it does not mean there are no rich households moving to Oregon; there are some. But overall, the biggest reason for these patterns if the fact that migration is for the young. Migration rates peak in the college-age years and decline thereafter. This pattern is why our office continually talks about the importance of the root-setting years. Once a regional economy has attracted young, working-age households, they don’t tend to leave and you have them for their prime working-age years. This is the key behind Oregon’s labor force growth over time.

And if migration is for the young, it also means it is largely for the lower- and moderate-income households as well. Younger individuals and households, even those with a job, generally earn less money because they are still early in their careers. This is true even as young migrants have higher levels of educational attainment. And this is true among young California and Washington transplants as well.

Furthermore, when looking at migrant income trends, these relative patterns hold even for households in their 40s and 50s, see the light blue line in the second chart above. Specifically, among those 35 to 54 years old — ages when very few are just finishing school and beginning their career — newly arrived households do not have significantly higher incomes than the existing population. Another indication that migration is not the key driver behind the household changes by income level.

Bottom Line: Despite some rhetoric out there, migration to Oregon is not just for the rich. In fact, migration by itself lowers Oregon incomes in the short-run given migrants tend to be younger and less likely to be employed. Over the long-run, the ability for our regional economy to attract and retain young, working-age households is vital for our growth prospects. Specifically regarding housing affordability, yes, migration does add to demand, but the biggest issue in recent years has been the lack of supply and the reasons why.

Note: I have an entire research project focusing on the shifting nature of households by income level, specifically those in the lower income brackets. Given we’re now a few months out from 2016 ACS data being released, the project is on hold until then. I will update the data and release the report at that time.

Posted by: Josh Lehner | June 21, 2017

Kids in the Basement, 2017 Update

Yesterday we looked at household formation in Oregon. Historically one key component has been young Oregonians leaving the nest after finishing school and/or finding a job. However, in the aftermath of the Great Recession we saw a larger share of young adults, both locally and across the country, living at home. Of course this was for logical reasons. Employment opportunities barely existed and a larger share returned to school in hopes of increasing their skills for better earning potential in the future.

However as the recession turned into recovery, which turned into expansion, the expectation was for these young Oregonians to begin to move out on their own. Nearly 3 years ago at their annual forecast breakfast I told the home builders that we had reached Peak Kids in the Basement. Well, I was wrong. We have not seen the share of young Oregonians living at home decline. At all.

What we have seen, however, is a shift in employment for those living at home. Previously the increase had been entirely among those without a job. The vast majority of that increase was due to larger enrollments in higher education, both full-time and part-time. In recent years we have seen a cyclical decline in non-employed young Oregonians living at home, but a corresponding increase in those with a job. So the economic conditions changed as expected, however the behavior did not. One key suspect as to why may be housing costs. High rents today may be a major hurdle to forming one’s own household or trekking out on one’s own, even with roommates. Additionally, given high rents, a young household has trouble saving money toward a down payment on a house. As such, living at home even while employed, allows for greater savings and financial flexibility. That said, I don’t have a full explanation for these trends.

Furthermore we have yet to see any rebound, cyclical or otherwise, when it comes to idle youth or boomerang college graduates. Keep in mind these subgroups are based on a very limited sample, so reading too much into them may be a fool’s errand.

One thing we do know is that some major life events, or milestones to adulthood, are shifting later into life over the past couple of generations. No, this isn’t a Millennial story per se. Rather, they are just the continuation of these trends.

Back in April, the Census Bureau released an interesting report called “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016.” (HT: Tim Duy) The report goes through a lot of the data and trends among young adults. What I was struck by were three things in particular. First, when it comes to leaving the nest the report says:

local labor and housing markets shape the ability of young people to find good jobs and affordable housing, which in turn affects whether and when they form their own households. Apart from local markets, patterns in migration may help create geographic differences in young adult living arrangements.


When looking across states, the report finds Oregon’s share of young adults living at home is the 11th lowest in the nation. Now, the increase from before the Great Recession to today has been the same, we just have a lower rate overall. I suspect much of that is due to our strong in-migration flows. It is hard to move to a different state and still live at home, obviously.

Second, Census compares what age most people say is the right time to complete these various milestones to adulthood and what share of the population actually does so by that age. See the two farthest right columns in the table below. For example, the ideal age for completing school and finding a full-time job is 22 years old. However only about one-half and one-third of young adults have actually done that by age 22.

Third, there has been an increase in so-called idle youth among the older Millennials living at home (25-34 years old). Census reports about 1 in 4 of this group are neither working nor enrolled in school. The report goes on to say that such individuals are more likely to have lower levels of educational attainment, which makes economic sense. However, Census also notes such individuals are also more likely to be disabled, and/or have a child. Either of which does make it harder to find work, and live on one’s own. Not all of the increase in young Americans living at home can be attributed to the economy. Some is due to life circumstances, evolving behavior and the like.

In conclusion, the share of young Oregonians living at home has not changed in recent years. Given that a larger share of those living at home now have a job, I do suspect there will be some cyclical decline moving forward as the economic expansion continues. Rising incomes and slower rent increases are also supportive of stronger household formation and stepping out on one’s own. However, at some point the proof is in the pudding. We’re clearly not there yet.

Note: While I was wrong in my 2014 housing prediction — and I felt confident in it — I was right in my 2015 housing prediction (Peak Renter), which I was much less confident in. There was no real 2016 housing prediction unless we can count the Housing Inflection Point.

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